Chapter 32 - Sam Hildebrand's Confession


Legend of St. Francois County
Reprinted from the County Advertiser by Farmington News Printing Company
September 26, 1979

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Confessions of Sam HILDEBRAND

TYPIST’S NOTE: I have not altered the manuscript at all, including all spelling and punctuation.  The ONLY change I have made is to capitalize all surnames. - BethK


[Started with eight men on a trip to Arkansas River. - Hung a "Scallawag" on White River. - Went into Conway County. - Treachery of a negro on Point Remove. - "Foot burning" atrocities. - Started back and hung a renegade.]

    During the early part of the winter of 1864, several persons from the vicinity of Lewisburg, Arkansas came to our Headquarters and reported trouble with the negroes and scallawags in that part of the State.

    Lewisburg is a small town on the north side of the Arkansas River, about fifty miles above Little Rock; the country around this place is very fertile, and before the war, was inhabited by a wealthy class of farmers of the highest cast of honor and intelligence, the most of whom owned a large number of slaves. It seemed that as soon as the ordinance emancipating the slaves was enforced in that part of the country, several scallawags from the free States, slipped in among the negroes, whose especial duty seemed to be to incite the negroes to deeds of villainy.

    About Lewisburg they seemed to have been very successful in their mission as insurrectionists, and the continued reports from that quarter convinced us that a short campaign among them during the winter might be beneficial. In January, 1865, I started with eight men, we passed through Lawrence and Independence Counties, and on reaching the beautiful country bordering on White River, which had been in a high state of cultivation before the war, but now sadly neglected, we approached near the town of Batesville, when we learned that two or three of the very animals we were hunting for were in that "neck of the woods." I left six of my men with our horses in a dense thicket, and three of us started out separately to visit the negro cabins.

    I had not proceeded far before I entered a dirty cabin of "colored people," whom I greeted very warmly. The household consisted of an old man and woman, each about sixty years of age, and about six others who were grown. The old man treated me with great politeness, and would persist in calling me "Massa," notwithstanding my repeated objections. I talked to them some time on the subject of their freedom; the old man gave me distinctly to understand that he considered their condition much worsted by the change; but the youngsters seemed to be in a high glee over their future prospects. I succeeded in gaining their confidence by professing intense loyalty to their cause, and ascertained beyond all doubt that a "Boasting man" had been through the neighborhood to obtain their names and their pledges to support him for Congress as soon as the war should close, with the solemn promise from him that he would have the land and property of the whites confiscated and given to them.

    One of the boys showed me a paper which he said was a certificate that he was to be the owner of the Anthony House in Little Rock. On inquiring where I could find my "Boasting brother," they told me that he was "Down about Lewisburg raising money from the Rebels to build school houses for the colored people."

    After intimating that I was an officer of the Freedman’s Bureau, I was about to depart, when a tall, lank specimen of a genuine Eastern philanthropist made his appearance at the door. After being assured that I was "all right," he remarked that he had been in the neighborhood several days, and had made a report of all the property which would be confiscated as soon as he returned to Washington. He proceeded to draw it out from the lining of his hat and handed it to me to read, I fumbled about in my pockets for some time, and then remarked that I had lost my spectacles; he then took the paper and read it with a great deal of pomposity, commenting occasionally on the names as he read them off.

    I sanctioned the report heartily, and told him that it was bound to win. He then remarked to the negroes that any assistance they could render him in the way of money matters, would be thankfully received, as he was working for their good alone. They contributed all the money they had which I think amounted to about six dollars. I arose to depart, stating that I had promised to take dinner with some colored friends about a mile from there, and insisted that my "brother missionary" accompany me, to which he readily consented.

    During our walk he laid before me many of his plots and plans, which fully convinced me that he designated to excite the minds of the negroes with the hope of ultimately expelling all the white people from the State, except their immediate friends from the North.

    We finally arrived at the place, but it proved to be a Rebel camp instead of a negro cabin. On coming up to the boys my missionary seemed to be badly alarmed, but made no show of resistance. We hung the scallawag to a limb, where he remained until we got our dinner, then we took him down and threw him into a hole of water, with a large stone tied to his feet. We crossed White River at a ferry several miles below Batesville, immediately after which we came suddenly upon a company of twenty armed men dressed in citizen’s clothes. As we were not posted in regard to the state of affairs in that part of the State, we were utterly at a loss to know to which side they belonged in this war.

    We were first seen by a tall, awkward looking specimen of humanity, who stepped out in front of us and questioned us about who we were and what we were doing.

    He held in his hand a double-barreled gun large enough to have killed all eight of us at one fire. Without answering his questions, as we wished to take items before committing ourselves, I asked "where is your Captain?" He replied that he was going to serve as captain himself, and immediately made a remark that led us to understand that they were merely a party starting out on a "bear hunt."

    At night we stopped at the Round Pond, and ascertained that there was but little Union sentiment in that part of the State, and that we would meet with no trouble from the Federals until we got into the counties bordering on Arkansas River. We avoided a military camp at Clinton, not knowing to a certainty whether they were Rebels or not.

    We had no source of information upon which we could explicitly rely. On arriving in Conway county we stayed all night with an old gentleman in Point Remove; but being fearful that our horses might be stolen, we concluded to sleep under a shed between the stable and the smokehouse.

    About one o’clock in the night we saw two negroes approaching the smoke house very cautiously; after some little time they succeeded in removing a log, when one of them crawled in. We made an attempt to arrest the one on the outside, but he got away, followed by two shots, which, however missed him. A great consternation was produced in the house, and out the old man came with a light. On taking our prisoner out he made a clean breast of it; he confessed that he belonged to a band of eight negroes, who were camped on the bank of Arkansas River, between Point Remove and Gilmore’s Landing; that they were led by a white man, and were in the habit of robbing white people, and making them tell where their money was concealed by burning their feet.

    On the next morning he consented to pilot us to the place where they were camped; but instead of taking us directly to the place, he took us a mile around through the cane, and finally brought us back to within two hundred yards of where we had been before, and then pointed to their camp. Here is was, sure enough, but the birds had flown.

    For this trick the body of a dead negro was soon discovered floating down the muddy river.

    I was much mortified in thus failing to squelch the foot-burning scallawag who was leading the negroes on to such acts of cruelty; but he succeeded in getting away and is no doubt by this time in Congress.

    After remaining in the woods a few miles from Lewisburg for several days without being able to do any good toward ferreting out the "foot-burners," we started back through Van Buren and Izard counties without molesting anyone until we got near a little town called Mount Olive, where we captured a man whom we accidently met in the road. Several of my men knew him, and stated that he had been run off from Bloomfield, Missouri, for professing loyalty during the second year of the war, and thus betraying the confidence his neighbors had hitherto placed in him. He was also accused of having had a man shot near Bloomfield, by reporting on him; this accusation he virtually acknowledged after we had captured him.

    We took him a few hundred yards from the road, hung him to a limb, and proceeded on through Lawrence county to our old headquarters.